Late & Great: Herb Schmertz

The New York Times: “Herbert Schmertz, an aggressive and innovative public relations man who, as a Mobil Oil executive, pioneered the use of company-written ‘advertorials’ during the energy shortages of the 1970s, died on Wednesday in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 87 … In addition to urging Mobil to go on the offensive at a time when Big Oil was being demonized, Mr. Schmertz had the company engage in image enhancement by association. He arranged for the company to sponsor the PBS series Masterpiece Theate when it began in 1971 as well as Mystery! and other public television programs later.”

“Critical of the news media, Mr. Schmertz advocated what he called creative confrontation — a markedly different approach from that of most companies, which tried to do their influencing behind the scenes … in October 1970, Mr. Schmertz began buying space on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to express the company’s views in essay form. Sometimes the essays responded to the news of the moment; other times they addressed broader issues, like mass transit. They advertorials appeared in other newspapers as well, and Mr. Schmertz made scores of television appearances.”

“Although few public-relations specialists today would take as abrasive a tack as Mr. Schmertz sometimes did, the modern media landscape is full of advertiser-influenced or controlled content that calls to mind his early forays into advertorials. On his retirement from Mobil in 1988, he was asked to name his greatest achievement.” He told the New York Times: “I think that Mobil has made it respectable for companies to have views, opinions and philosophies and to express them.”

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